The Omani Khanjar has just been inscribed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.
This traditional dagger, a Khanjar, is an important part of Oman’s national identity. It forms part of the national symbol and is a required part of dress for Omani men on formal occasions. No wedding or state function is complete without the men wearing the Khanjar. Its appearance stamps the event with importance and prestige.
Though undoubtedly an ancient weapon, it perhaps took its current form during the reign of the 19th-century ruler of Oman, Said bin Sultan Al Said (ruled from 1804-1856). He married a Persian Princess, Shahzadi Shahruzad Khanum, from the Qajar dynasty. She, according to legend, designed the Saidi style Khanjar. This has an ornimental pommel-shaped hilt, with seven-ringed construction to hold the belt.
Traditionally, as with many Khanjars for the wealthy, this had a rhinoceros horn hilt. The leather belt was silver-embroidered. Various accessories might hang from it, including tweezers and a small knife with its own sheath on the back of the sheath. The decoration on the hilt and sheath of the Khanjar includes silver filigree, granulation and chased, stamped applied work. All are naturally hand-created.
James Wellsted in his book Travels in Arabia from the early 19th century wrote, ‘While amidst their mountains, few go armed with more than the common jambir or dagger’. A jambir was the word he know from Yemen. He further wrote ‘The jambir, or dagger, is usually about ten inches in length, and the haft, with those who can afford it, richly ornamented with gold.’ It was a practical item for every-man, and upgraded with bling for the wealthy.
All Khanjars have a very distinctive sheath, with a 45-degree angle. When worn the tip faces the man’s right side. Regional variations dictate if it is set vertically or at a jaunty angle. Needless to say, the blade is only slightly curved. The Khanjar is worn over a man’s abdomen, held around the waist with a highly decorated, silver embroidered belt. The structure of the sheath is wood, typically teak, covered in leather. This is covered in silver decoration on its outer face, either woven or silver plate with often a granulated decoration. The bottom apex, at the end of that 45-degree bend, would have a silver cap that is usually decorated.
The core of the hilt today is typically wood, or a resin to appear as if ivory. In the past, it might have been fashioned from real ivory or rhinoceros horn. Both these exotic materials would pass through Omani-ruled areas of East Africa. The hilt would have some form of metal decoration to decorate and reinforce it.
The blade is less than 20cms long and around 5cm wide at its top, tapering in an elegant curve to a very sharp point as the base. The blade, made from steel, might be the most valued part of the whole construction and would be re-used within a new Khanjar.
Bradt’s 5th guide to Oman 2022 has completely rewritten regional chapters and maps. These cover Oman from the tip of Musandam’s peninsula, through to the hotels near the border with Yemen. Available from June 2022 at most online book stores incl Bradt and Amazon. (my earlier 4th Edition of the guide is still available at Bradt and Amazon)
The belt is either leather or possibly silk, made in two separate sections – a long one that fits around the waist and a short section that links the longer section to the sheath. Typically it is decorated with silver embroidery in a geometric pattern. Silver rings link the sheath to the belt to the buckle part. Silver buckles secure the belt. The addition of tweezers or small knife (sikkin) might be created when the complete Khanjar is created, or purchased separately after.
There are other traditional regional styles of Khanjar in Oman.
Suri-style Khanjar’s are relatively small with a gilded hilt. Its sheath is made of leather decorated with silver thread. The Al Sifani sheath is also decorated with silver. This type is found and worn by Bedouins in Al Wusta and North Al Sharqiyah.
Al Nizwani style Khanjar is made in Nizwa. The sheath is made of wood covered with a silver plate and the hilt is similar to Al Saidi Khanjar’s hilt but far less ornamental.
Prices of modern Khanjars vary considerably, of course. Some are made of silver while others are plated with gold. A typical price is Omani Rials (OMR) 150- 500, but some can be several thousand.
The inclusion of the Khanjar by UNESCO
New inscription on the #IntangibleHeritage List: Al-Khanjar, craft skills and social practices.
Congratulations #Oman 🇴🇲!
— UNESCO 🏛️ #Education #Sciences #Culture 🇺🇳 (@UNESCO) November 30, 2022
is international recognition of the culture and craft of this dagger.